Chris Brancato interview: ‘Godfather of Harlem’ showrunner
“I realized there could be a gangster show that was the collision of organized crime and civil rights, and that turns out to be a Rubik’s Cube that’s incredibly difficult to solve,” declares Chris Brancato, co-creator and showrunner of “Godfather of Harlem,” which is set to premiere its anticipated third season on newly-named MGM+ (currently Epix). For our recent webchat he adds, “it was immediately apparent to us that by using the prism of the past, we could talk about things of contemporary relevance,” he explains. “What we also can see from the show is, on the one hand, things have changed greatly for African Americans. We’ve had an African American president. But on the other hand, things haven’t changed much at all, and so that’s what the show’s trying to articulate.” We talked with Brancato as part of Gold Derby’s special “Meet the Experts” Q&A event with 2022/2023 awards contenders. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“Godfather of Harlem” was created by Brancato (“Narcos”) and Paul Eckstein (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”), a prequel to the Ridley Scott‘s 2007 gangster film “American Gangster.” Season 3 sees Vincent D’Onofrio return as mobster Vincent “Chin” Gigante, alongside Jason Alan Carvell as Malcolm X, (replacing Nigél Thatch who portrayed the civil rights activist for first two seasons), Ilfenesh Hadera as Bumpy’s wife Mayme, Emmy nominee Giancarlo Esposito as Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Michael Raymond-James as Italian mafia boss Joe Colombo.
The series stars Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”) as real-life crime boss Bumpy Johnson, who returned from 10 years in prison to find his beloved Harlem neighborhood, which he once controlled, now run by the nefarious Italian mafia. In his efforts to reclaim the streets Bumpy triggers a bloody feud with the powerful Genovese family. The show’s second season saw Bumpy come out of hiding from ruthless gangster Gigante (D’Onofrio) to forge new alliances and infiltrate the lucrative “French Connection” heroin pipeline from Marseilles to New York. The upcoming third season will see Bumpy continue to battle for control of Harlem, this time with the Cuban Mafia from neighboring Spanish Harlem. Fighting the Cuban mob will put Bumpy, his loved ones, and his community in the crosshairs of not only the rival Italian mob but also DEA agents looking to increase their presence in Harlem.
Brancato is understandably excited for his show’s upcoming third season premiere, particularly because it promises fireworks between Bumpy and a new rival. “Chin is in jail for an indeterminate length of time because his own daughter ratted him out in the last episode of last year, so a new Italian figure emerges in Joe Colombo, a guy who is going to mind Harlem for Chin and also try to cut a deal with Bumpy Johnson to help distribute heroin,” he explains. “But Bumpy feels caged when he is working with the Italians. It hasn’t worked out for him, as he was partnered with Chin in Season 2 and it just didn’t work out. So he refuses Colombo’s generous offer, setting the stage for a season of conflict between Joe Colombo, a new boss, and Bumpy Johnson.”